Monday, 1 October 2012

Is London at Risk of Becoming a Cultural Desert?

London has long been famous for being a cultural hub, with its many theatres, art galleries, publishing houses and thriving street art scene, but is our cultural heritage, our reputation as the home of art and culture beginning to slip away from us? Are we starting to sink into a quagmire of ignorance, soullessness and mediocrity; a bland artistic wasteland full of near identical, dense half-wits whose idea of progressive art is the latest album by Jessie J? Is London becoming the new Milton Keynes

Another poor turnout at the Milton Keynes book club 

To some this may seem a ridiculous suggestion, but is it? Is it?

Probably, but even so I am not without concerns about the capital’s artistic future, as small warning signs have been recently making themselves apparent. Warning signs like this.

Sorry, no forget that – I meant this. Yes, apparently, despite being home to the Globe Theatre, 12 per cent of London’s inhabitants have never heard of Shakespeare. William Shakespeare, the playwright.  Wrote a play called Hamlet. Wore a ruff. Massive forehead. From Stratford-upon-Avon. Baz Luhrmann did a version of one of his plays staring Leonardo Dicaprio and – yes that Shakespeare. Anyway, during the study which brought this disturbing ignorance to light, those that did not know who Shakespeare was were encouraged to guess what his profession might have been. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for this other than to compound the poor participants’ feelings of stupidity and provide additional mockery material for those of us who had the wherewithal to Google Shakespeare months ago. Whatever the reason, it turns out that 2 per cent of those who did not know who he was thought that the man who played such a significant part in the development of our language was a Roman centurion. Not just one person decided that this was the case – 2 whole per cent of those asked. Where and when did this rumour begin?  Is there an alternative version of events being bandied about suggesting that The Tempest was knocked up in between the manufacture of viaducts and throwing Christians to the lions? Seems unlikely. And in a telling reflection of modern society, another 2 per cent had decided that if they had not heard of him Shakespeare must be a celebrity. Of course.

But is it any wonder that the cultural landscape of the average Londoner is so barren when our artistic heritage is being sold out from underneath us without consultation? Tower hamlets council are planning to sell a £20m Henry Moore sculpture that was dedicated to the people of East London by the artist himself. And that’s not the worst of it; the sculpture, which is not very good, has not been in the East End for the last 15 years, as it was removed in 1997 after one too many Graffiti attacks, and moved to Yorkshire. The lucky Yorkshirians have shown the piece a bit more respect than it enjoyed in London, preferring to look at it rather than spray it with paint. Is this because they are more receptive to art and respectful of the cultural artefacts around them than the people of London, or is it just that they don’t have such a thriving street art scene? 

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